By Marie-Claire Bagazonzya, Research Assistant
Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa. Coined the “Pearl of Africa,” it has an abundance of wildlife and natural resources which put the country on the map as a tourist destination. However, due to Uganda’s low GDP and young population, there are less job opportunities available for the many young people trying to enter the workforce . Various Ugandan recruitment agencies (licensed and unlicensed) for years have advertised potential well-paying jobs abroad – mostly in the Middle East. The promise of a well-paid job in a foreign country has persuaded many to make the move abroad. This has resulted in exploitation and abuse because once in the destination countries their migrant status leaves them highly vulnerable to situations of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor.
The lack of job opportunities in Uganda has caused Saudi Arabia to become a destination for young Ugandan workers (especially young women) to be employed for domestic work. About 500 Ugandan women have traveled there in search of such opportunities. Uganda signed a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia in July 2015 to send Ugandans to the Middle East in an effort to counter the high unemployment rates experienced by the young population. However, this decision was rescinded given reports on inhumane abuse experienced by Ugandan women during their stay. This prompted a ban that was put into effect on January 22, 2016 by Wilson Muruli Mukasa, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development. This ban would enforce that no more Ugandan workers would be sent to Saudi Arabia until working conditions were changed.
The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is an annual report issued by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. It ranks governments based on US perceptions of their efforts to acknowledge and combat human trafficking. Previous TIP reports published prior to 2016 have stated that Saudi Arabia is a destination country for Ugandan trafficking victims. For this reason, Uganda signed the bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia in an attempt to minimize the number of Ugandans trafficked there. However, the agreement by itself was not enough and proved ineffective. It is alarming that the Ugandan government did not take even stronger precautions such as investing more in an entity overseeing the dealings of recruitment agencies and radio advertisements after the TIP reports were issued. On the same note, according to the 2016 TIP Report, the Ugandan government is heavily relying on international organizations and NGOs to provide survivors of trafficking with the necessary services due to their lack of funding and resources.
Despite the accounts of physical and sexual abuse, as well as withholding of payments reported, there has been little prosecution of the exploiters / traffickers. This is due to the lack of funding available to pursue those suspected of trafficking in persons. As is evidenced by the reliance on NGOs noted above, the Ugandan government is not allocating sufficient resources to address the significant human trafficking problem currently facing the country.
The Kyampisi Childcare Ministries (KCM), which caters to trafficked children, is one example of an NGO that has taken in the returning Ugandan women and created a rehabilitation center for them. 10 women have received care and services from this organization so far. As of March 2016, another 17 women were held at a shelter in Saudi Arabia waiting for proper documentation to leave. It seems as though the best solution to this issue in Uganda, as of now, is the work of NGOs like KCM and individuals such as Agnes Igoye.
Agnes Igoye is the Deputy National Coordinator for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Office, a Deputy Chair on the National Anti-Trafficking Task Force and a senior immigration officer and training coordinator at Uganda’s Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration control. She has helped in the training of law enforcement as well as the creation of National Action Plans (NAPs), along with her fellow colleagues on the Task Force. These NAPs, among other projects taken on by the Task Force, include creating a database to track trends in trafficking within the country. These intensified efforts by KCM and Agnes Igoye are the type of programs that can plausibly affect real change in Uganda. These solutions tackle the issue of lack of resources that law enforcement agencies are faced with. It not only gives them the opportunity to learn how to interact with Ugandan survivors of trafficking but also a way to identify these survivors in their own community.
Photo taken in Uganda by the author
The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.
Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.
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